Surviving Geriatric Pregnancy: A Candid Story

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The feminist movement in the 1960s and ’70s saw women standing up and asking for equal rights and opportunities and great personal freedom. This led to the girls of that generation being the first in the Western world brought up to believe they could, and would, do anything and be anything.

As one of those girls, I grew up knowing I would be educated, earn money, live alone if I wanted to, marry when I wanted to, run the company or the country if I wanted to, and choose when I would or wouldn’t have children. My opportunities would be the same as men’s opportunities, and my gender would never hold me back from living the life I wanted.

Turns out, that was aspirational. Women in America still earn 81 cents to a man’s dollar; unconscious bias around the way a woman should act makes being perceived as either too hard or too soft an impossible daily struggle; sexual harassment in the workplace was mostly tolerated until recently; and nice eligible men over the age of 35 are somewhat of an anomaly, so it’s a slow burn toward gender equality.

Most of this is common knowledge now, as is the fact that choosing to have children later in life is radically different for women — both personally and professionally — than it is for men.

I am not going to dive too deep here; I’ll just outline how it is for, say, a successful 40-year-old man who we’ll call Jack.

My friend Jack took his time getting an education, building his human capital, and positioning himself for a thriving career. Now at 40, Jack has decided it's time to “settle down.” He looks around and realizes that even though he is a little soft around the middle and hasn’t worked out in 15 years, due to his status (read: financial success), the field is wide open and he can date a woman anywhere from 25 to 45 years old. Jack is serious about getting married, so he aims for the 28-to-30-year range (so generous with that two-year sweet spot).

Jack meets the perfect woman. Let’s call her Lisa. Lisa is smart, funny and attractive, and doesn’t want to be like the women of Jack’s generation, who gave their whole lives to their careers and never had families. Jack’s new love interest seems pretty critical of the “decisions” (if only they had been) the women of Jack’s generation made, and Jack sees this as a good sign. Lisa is happy to enjoy a year of dating, a proposal in Hawaii, and a destination wedding.

After getting married at 25, Lisa, a wonderful wife with eggs that are not considered geriatric, falls pregnant naturally and has the first of Jack’s three children.

Jack is now in the father’s club at work and finds that it elevates his status. Lisa is grateful that she is able to take four months’ maternity leave, after which she decides to go back to work only part-time, as her income is really just a bonus. Jack is now the CFO of a thriving start-up and can take time off as needed and enjoys not having to lock himself in a closet at work to pump breast milk, rush to pick up the baby from daycare, shop for food, cook … you get my point.

Jack’s experience is not the same as the female version of Jack’s experience.

At this point in our evolution, most of us are aware and consciously working to mitigate the impact of gender bias; however, the conversation I don’t hear very often is around how hard it is for a woman to become a mother later in life and suddenly have her identity dramatically altered. 

Most of us had expectations of what it would look like when we became mothers, and often these don’t match our realities. Not to mention, the person you have become is well-formed and comfortable. You know this person — you have lived with her for 35-plus years.

This is not going to be a moan (you probably already think I am bitter after my Jack story), but rather this is to support women who choose to have children after 35, when they are ready, and their pregnancy is categorized as a “geriatric pregnancy.” Yes, you read that right. That is how it is medically categorized. So for all of you who cringe at your pregnancy categorization, let me add some words.

Pregnancy is different for everyone, and it’s not different like “I love chocolate and you don’t.” Pregnancy can be different, from "The best experience of my life. I gave birth at home with no pain medication and I loved him the moment he came out. I’m getting pregnant again as soon as possible!” to “I wanted to die for the entire 40 weeks, and after nearly dying in childbirth and feeling no attachment to the child when I woke up and realized I wasn’t dead, I knew I was never going to ever do that again.” So it’s a pretty mixed bag, which comes with no clue to the one that you will get when you test positive for pregnancy.

So let’s say you got through that (geriatric) pregnancy, and are now a mother, and you are suddenly making milk! For me, that was just such a bizarre thing — you are making food and it’s coming out of your boobs. Those little perky boobs that you were so proud of are now huge, often painful udders that, although your partner may be drawn to like a moth to a flame, you are unable to see as anything but a very convenient way to stop the baby from crying.

The issue is how to dress now that you are a mother. I still remember talking to a mom friend (yes, you now have a whole new “friend classification” system: before-marriage friends, before-kids friends, preschool-mom friends, school-mom friends, soccer-mom friends…) who told me about a woman who was at a kid’s pool party wearing a sexy two-piece swimsuit that horrified the other mothers. “Who does that,” my friend asked rhetorically, “in front of all those kids and fathers?” I was taken aback. Yet another set of expectations and rules I needed to get briefed on.

Back to how to dress: For the record, I wore heels through all of my pregnancies, but at some point — and it comes at different times for each of us — I started wearing flats. Gasp! You might not know this, but cute flats are hard to find, and I can only speak for myself when I say that flats just don’t give me that “I’m a kick-ass woman and I’m doing all this in heels” confidence.

I went from wearing a pair of shoes that cost more than a trip to London, my only considerations being what makes me feel good and how do I want to look today, to everything I wore having to accommodate pulling my boob out easily and expanding with my belly as it would grow (huge) and then shrink (slowly) and then grow (huge again) and then shrink (slower) — rinse, repeat. I also had to take into account dirty fingers constantly grabbing at me, so minimal light colors and nothing that could be easily pulled out of shape.

It was a whole new world.

"Most of us had expectations of what it would look like when we became mothers, and often these don’t match our realities."


Then, after three go-rounds, I was able to throw all these kid-specific clothes away and think, How do I want to dress? Who am I now? For me, I am a mother of three boys and often work with women on how to develop their executive presence, so I need to look professional, but I also need to be practical. Most of the clothes in my closet are black and machine-washable.

If you are reading this and your last child is more than two years old and you haven’t moved on from this stage of flexible clothing, you may want to ask yourself, Is this a choice?

What I just said is important because this is where the identity question comes up. Have you lost yourself? Or have you found yourself? Are you now in default mode, where nothing is really a decision as much as a reaction?

Becoming a mother is a crazy process of taking the attention off yourself and coming to the realization that there is another human being who is 100% reliant on you, and if you mess up, this person, for whom you have more love than you knew was possible, could actually die. Then after your pregnancy, the birth, watching them learn to walk and talk and learn how to eat, and allowing other people to share in the care-taking, etc., this reliance starts to shift and there is room to learn who you are now because that was and continues to be one crazy freaking journey, one that no book can prepare you for or that you can go through vicariously.

Part of the transition back to paying more attention to yourself is realizing that your children will suffer if you are not healthy (put on your own oxygen mask first). All the health and happiness you want for your children you have to want for yourself; otherwise, you can’t teach them. So that person you knew so well for all those years has evolved and she is unique and a mother and someone you have to get to know.

Tags: Pregnancy, Motherhood

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Helena Goto

Helena Goto is the Managing Principal of Goto Solutions Inc. Since 2013 she has successfully worked with, and advised indi... See Full Bio

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